UPDATE, 11:47 PM with statement from video game industry: Hours after the date was set for a strike, the video game responded in a statement released to the media. “We have negotiated in good faith for the past 18 months with SAG-AFTRA union leaders, and are making progress toward a new contract,” said Scott J. Witlin of the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP, representing the industry. “We are deeply disappointed to learn today of the Union’s threatened strike and its unilateral violation of the mutually agreed upon ‘news black-out’ on negotiation discussions.”
“We consider the Union’s threatened labor action to call a strike precipitous, unnecessary and an action that will only harm their membership. SAG-AFTRA represents performers in less than 25% of the video games on the market. Any strike would not only deny SAG-AFTRA’s membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place.
“The Video Game Companies had already scheduled bargaining sessions this week with SAG-AFTRA union leaders to attempt to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. We expect these negotiations to remain in place, and will continue to attempt to reach a fair and equitable contract despite the Union leadership’s most recent threatened labor action.
“The existing contract between Video Game Companies and SAG-AFTRA pays all performers more than $100 an hour plus benefits and most performers many times that. The Companies’ current proposals on the negotiation table includes wage increases for most performers and additional avenues for compensation that could yield many hundreds of dollars more in payments for limited integration and ratification bonuses. Although the Companies have had only one report of workplace injury due to vocal stress, the Companies have continued to look to ways to reduce the burdens on performers in this area through the more flexible work scheduling and other innovative work arrangements.
“We want to draw attention to the increased economic benefits and working condition improvements being offered because SAG-AFTRA’s website is inaccurate and out of date and does not reflect offers some of which have been on the table for more than a year.
“It is important to note that the Video Game Companies’ upcoming games are already in production and the majority will be unaffected by any SAG-AFTRA strike due to the nature of the ‘no strike provisions’ of the collective bargaining agreement. We anticipate minimal impact on current and near-future game releases.
“We produce Interactive Video Games for the enjoyment of people around the world and as a result we provide excellent jobs for many SAG-AFTRA members. Reaching a reasonable agreement is in the best interest of all parties, as well as the many fans of our games.”
PREVIOUS, OCTOBER 16, 7:18 PM: SAG-AFTRA’s National Board of Directors has voted unanimously on a strike date against major video game employers, and if negotiations are unsuccessful, will walk go on strike Friday, October 21 at 12:01 AM.
The union will be striking a litany of video game industry giants, including Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. If no deal is reached, all games which went into production after February 17, 2015 will be struck.
“Through many months of bargaining with interactive employers, we have not reached a fair agreement covering SAG-AFTRA performers working in video games – often the most popular games in the world. Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement released Sunday night. “A strike is not to be entered into lightly, but when the employers leave us with no recourse, we must stand firm for our members. It is imperative that we secure for them the protections, compensation and benefits they deserve.”
The decision comes amid an increasingly bitter battle between the guild and the video games industry over the treatment and compensation of voice actors. For years, the video game industry has made heavy use of non union labor or has used union labor for non union work, with more strict adherence to some guild standards observed in Los Angeles and New York where SAG AFTRA has a much heavier presence. In 2015, SAG AFTRA resolved to negotiate better deals for union members for their work within one of the largest entertainment industries in the world.
In many ways, the dispute comes down to the stark differences between the tech sector and the entertainment industry, a problem exacerbated by the way the video game industry straddles both worlds. Among the disputes, the industry has long refused any residual payment schemes or other profit sharing, and the union says the industry has also rejected proposed health allowances, for example reducing vocally stressful recording sessions to two hours in order to prevent permanent damage to the actor’s voice.
“We have received a clear and unambiguous message from the community who work this agreement that the situation they face has become intolerable. We are always prepared to reach a fair deal with employers, but they must play their part,” said National Executive Director David White. “It is a serious decision to conclude that a job action of this magnitude is necessary and we hope that we can reach a fair deal before the deadline set by the board. But make no mistake: if we are unable to find a way to address the minimum needs of our members, we will go on strike as planned.”
One particularly intense point of contention is a set of onerous rules the video game industry wants placed on actors and their agents, which were made public by guild members in September, 2015, among them Wil Wheaton. One proposal would give video game publishers the ability to fine the union tens of thousands of dollars if a franchised agent does not participate in every audition for which their services are solicited. Another would allow them to fine voice actors more than $1,000 if they’re late to work or considered not to be fully engaged in the work. A still more ludicrous rule, according to SAG AFTRA, would require revocation of an agent’s union franchise if they fail to send their clients to every audition.
The union also wants the video game industry to cease imposing secrecy about the work actors are hired for, outline the specific work an actor would be contracted to, and allow them to know the name of the game they would be working on, before taking the job. The industry, which famously is highly secretive about new IP in development, has also rejected that proposal.
“We need a contract that fits the needs of our members working in video games,” said Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez. “So far employers have been unwilling to meet us even close to where the needs of our members are.”